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UPPER MARLBORO – During warmups, Eleanor Roosevelt High School guard Isaiah Gross did not miss. From 3-pointers, layups to jumpers, the senior was fired up to play for the 2019 Prince George’s County Championship, releasing a howl into the air before gathering together with his teammates before the opening tipoff.
“Once my shots start falling during the warmup lines, I know if I am going to have a good game or a bad game,” Gross said. “It could fall either way but feeding off of my teammates makes everything even better.”
Fast forward moments later to the game against Frederick Douglass and the 6-foot-3 star was all over the court, muscling his way for points in the paint while scoring shots in transition. The Eagles had no answers in stopping the Roosevelt star, who finished with a game-high 32 points and leading the Raiders to a 74-61 victory on Feb. 27.
The win is Roosevelt’s fourth county championship in the last six years, but it’s first since 2016.
Gross proved to be the biggest difference maker for the Raiders, but his performance was nothing new, according to Head Coach Brendan O’Connell. All season long, Gross has been the anchor for Roosevelt, scoring points or providing additional offensive support.
“I do not think Isaiah did anything out of the ordinary tonight,” O’Connell said. “He is capable of that every night, but he is so unselfish that some nights, he may only have eight or 10 points with five or six assists. And our whole team is like, and it makes it fun to coach.”
“That is the beauty of our team, whoever is on, we are going to find them every night,” senior Cameron Brown said. “Isaiah was on tonight; he works hard every game, and when you do good things, the ball finds you, and he was on tonight.”
Early in the contest, poor shooting by both sides limited the points on the scoreboard but Roosevelt pulled away with an early 13-5 lead. Douglass did not score its first field goal with 3:20 remaining in the first quarter.
However, the Eagles quickly mounted a comeback, storming back with a 14-5 run thanks to sophomore Abdou Samb contributing seven points in the process, including a driven corner 3-pointer.
Douglass stood firm against the 4A powerhouse, with senior Kaylen Vines adding seven of his team-high 17 points to drop their deficit to three heading to halftime.
Their ability to battle back has been a trait Douglass has brought along all season, Eagles Head Coach Tyrone Massenburg said. With only three seniors on the roster earning considerable playing time, the play of Samb and the rest of the underclassman have helped carry the load of Douglass’ success this season.
“Our team is young, but that did not stop us from nothing, and we performed on and off the court,” Vines said. “We were hyped; we knew what we were capable in what we were doing to perform. We had a close one, but we did not get it done all the way through.”
Douglass continued to pressure Roosevelt offensively and even took a quick two-point lead early in the third quarter. The lead quickly evaporated as Gross continued his unstoppable offensive performance when he tossed a one-handed, off-balance shot over two Douglass defenders behind the free-throw line to tie the game.
The Raiders would begin to pull away with senior Jaamir Butler adding seven of his final 11 points in the fourth quarter. Gross started to slow down slightly, scoring only nine points to complete his title-winning performance.
Douglass attempted to mount any comeback possible, including a possible four-point play for junior Darnell Snowden after being fouled during a successful 3-point attempt midway through the period. However, Roosevelt continued to score its free-throws and manage the game clock to earn the double-digit win.
For Douglass, playing a team like Roosevelt before the playoffs will benefit the Eagles moving forward as they prepare to take charge of the 1A South bracket of the state playoffs, Massenburg said. After a first-round bye, they will take on Largo on March 4.
“We knew Roosevelt was a seasoned team with several seniors and we are a young team,” Massenburg said. “I thought we competed well and at the end of the game, their experience was the difference…But I think this is game is going to be what we look as why we can respond we get to the playoffs.”
Meanwhile, Roosevelt celebrated the county championship but called the win a part of the mission to win a state title. The disappointment of last year’s regional title loss has disappeared within the group, O’Connell said, and with Gross’ high-play and other weapons ready to take over as needed, Roosevelt has enough fire-power to be a true state-title winning contender.
“Everyone is going to be a challenge,” Gross said. “Like us, nobody wants their season to end, and we expect everyone to give us their best game at every time, so we want to throw the first punch in the game and extend what we want to do to win that game and get one step closer to completing our goals.”